English for employability: why teaching general English is not enough!


Many English language learners are studying English with the aim of getting down to the nitty-gritty of the language they need for their profession. Whether the learner is an engineer, a lawyer, a nanny, a nurse, a police officer, a cook or a salesperson, simply teaching general English or even English for specific purposes is not enough. We need to improve our learners’ skills for employability.

The four maxims of conversation

In his article Logic and Conversation, Paul Grice, a philosopher of language, proposes that every conversation is based on four maxims: quantity, quality, relation and manner. He believes that if these maxims combine successfully, then the best conversation will take place and the right message will be delivered to the right person at the right time.

The four maxims take on deeper significance when it comes to the workplace, where things are often more formal and more urgent. Many human resources (HR) managers have spent hours fine-tuning workplace conversations simply because a job candidate or employee has not been adequately educated to the level of English language that a job role demands. This, coupled with the fact that many companies across the globe are adopting English as their official corporate language, has resulted in a new requirement in the world of business: mastery of the English language. It would not be satisfactory for an employee to be turned down for a job vacancy, to be disqualified after a while; or fail to fulfill his or her assigned tasks, because their English language profile either does not correlate with what the job fully expects or does not possess even the primitive must-have can-dos of the job role.

How the GSE Job Profiles can help

The Job Profiles within the Global Scale of English (GSE) Teacher Toolkit can help target those ‘must-have can-dos’ related to various job roles. The ‘Choose Learner’ drop-down menu offers the opportunity to view GSE Learning Objectives for four learner types: in this case, select ‘Professional Learners’. You can then click on the ‘Choose Job Role’ button to narrow down the objectives specific for a particular job role – for example, ‘Office and Administrative Support’ and then ‘Hotel, Motel and Resort Desk Clerks’.

Then I can choose the GSE/CEFR range I want to apply to my results. In this example case, I would like to know what English language skills a hotel desk clerk is expected to master for B1-B1+/GSE: 43-58.

When I click on ‘Show Results’, I am presented with a list of 13 learning objectives in the four skills of reading, listening, speaking and writing. For example:

  • Speaking: Can suggest a resolution to a conflict in a simple negotiation using fixed expressions. (B1+/GSE 53)
  • Reading: Can understand clearly written, straightforward instructions on how to use a piece of equipment. (B1/GSE 46)

Concentrating on specific skills

The Professional section of the GSE Teacher Toolkit also has an option to select learning objectives according to a specific business skill. Consider this scenario: Ms Lahm is an HR manager at the imaginary LydoApps company, which designs and sells computer programs and apps in Germany. Ms Lahm already knows her team has the following English language profile:

English language profile Number of employees Nationality Department
GSE 10-42


15 German Programs Print
GSE 10-42


12 German Packages
GSE 10-50


9 German Customer care
GSE 10-50


5 German Design Engineering
GSE 10-58


3 German Overseas

Ms Lahm wishes to critically check what skills her Customer Care employees need to be able to answer telephone calls in English. She selects ‘Business Skills’, and then ‘Telephoning’, with a GSE/CEFR range of 10-50.

Ms Lahm now has 28 GSE Learning Objectives related to English telephoning, for example:

  • Can introduce themselves on the phone and close a simple call. (A2/GSE 33)
  • Can ask for repetition or clarification on the phone in a simple way. (A2/GSE 35)
  • Can answer simple work-related questions on the phone using fixed expressions. (A2+/GSE 40)
  • Can use simple appropriate language to check that information has been understood on the phone. (B1/GSE 45)

Ms Lahm can now use these GSE Learning Objectives to help organise her current team and recruit new colleagues with the appropriate skills for the job.

Try out the GSE Teacher Toolkit today

The GSE Teacher Toolkit is a fantastic resource when it comes to teaching English. General English is often not enough – and it can be daunting for teachers when they are faced with the whole of the language to teach. Both teachers and HR managers can use the Job Profiles feature of the GSE Teacher Toolkit to examine more than 200 jobs for their English language profile and, by targeting these specific language functions, can prepare students for their chosen careers and recruit candidates with the level of English required to successfully perform a given job.

Try out the GSE Teacher Toolkit and tell me about your experience in the comments section below…

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